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Saturday, November 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Fair
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Bawdy fun in Middleton Players Theatre's well-executed The Producers
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Cast members use their bodies with cartoon-like smoothness and fearlessness.
Cast members use their bodies with cartoon-like smoothness and fearlessness.

Like Springtime for Hitler, the fictional production at its center, The Producers is a goofy, irreverent, sometimes offensive musical. But where Springtime's cast and crew are chosen for their incompetence, and succeed in spite of it, the folks at Middleton Players Theatre have clearly not only assembled the best troupe they could, but have worked their butts off in the hope of doing justice to Mel Brooks' record-breaking Tony Award winner.

And Friday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, do justice to it they did.

Did it feel like you were at a real Broadway show? Not quite -- the seats were more comfortable, the room felt bigger, and the set and costumes weren't so audaciously ornate. But you did get lost in the performance, immersed in the story of a washed-up producer and milquetoast accountant who concoct a scheme to make a million bucks each by putting together a musical that's destined to fail.

John Najem and Chaz Ingraham wore the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom like absolute naturals, the voices and mannerisms coming seemingly effortlessly. (Najem dashed through the occasional line or lyric just a mite too quickly, actually, such that a joke or two may have been missed by some, but that's a minor nitpick.) And the rest of the cast, including the ensemble, matched their execution, to the point where it would be difficult to cite any standouts. Meagan Wells, as Swedish love interest Ulla, did flounce deliciously, and Brian Acker's androgynous Carmen Ghia did too, winning some laughs with little more than a gesture.

Brooks' style of humor is so deeply woven into our culture by now that even if you've never seen the show, you hear a lot of the punch lines coming. So it was a good thing MPT didn't have to rely on dialogue alone for the funny. The cartoon-like smoothness (and fearlessness) with which the cast used their bodies -- especially Ingraham -- were a big part of why it was easy to forget you weren't watching a fancy big-city production. Some of the pratfalls were flat-out astonishing, and everyone's dance steps were spot-on, as well.

The set, again, wasn't ostentatious, but it was detailed and compellingly complete -- impressively so, considering how quickly the scene changes took place.

Criticisms? Significant ones are hard to come by, but the otherwise superb music was a touch loud, especially at the very start of the first act, muffling some lyrics. And at the close, when title cards of Max and Leo's future productions were projected against the curtain, some were dim and there wasn't quite enough time to catch them all. At almost three hours (with a 20-minute intermission), the two-act show dragged briefly from time to time, too, and then end fairly abruptly, but those are really functions of the original script, not complaints about MPT's work.

There are mildly adult situations and language -- you wouldn't bring an 8-year-old to The Producers, but a 14-year-old would be okay. Whether you bring the kids or not, though, if you want to catch a great show at a price much more reasonable than any in New York (besides, you can't even see it there anymore), get to Middleton and check this one out.

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